If you’re planning to visit or move to Japan, one of your first budget considerations is likely going to be food. Many folks often hear that Japan is an expensive country and assume that the cost of food in Japan is no exception.
Most people find the cost of food in Japan to be quite reasonable. Eating out could even be more affordable when compared to your home country. But just like everywhere else, the exact cost of food is going to vary depending on where you are.
Most chain stores will have the same prices regardless of where you are in Japan. Why? Japanese businesses likely don’t want to surprise their loyal customers with unexpected charges. This goes for fast food, cafés, and even “family restaurants”.
The prices used below are in Japanese Yen (¥) or United States Dollar (USD)
Cost of eating in family restaurants in Japan
Family restaurants are relatively low-cost chains that are known to offer a wide variety of menu options. They’re especially popular with families and students because of their low prices. Family restaurant menus are also full of pictures, making them a great option for people who don’t speak much Japanese.
Another selling point is that they usually offer unlimited refills at an affordable price. An adult can expect to eat a full meal for around ¥1000 ($9)! Popular companies include Saizeriya, Gusto, Jonathan, and Royal Host.
Cost of fast food in Japan
When you’re in a hurry to eat, nothing beats fast food. Japan takes “quick and easy” to a new level with great efficiency that doesn’t seem to significantly compromise the quality of service.
While many people dislike the idea of eating at McDonald’s, the company has a much better image in Japan and are known for being a very flexible employer. But these costs won’t be passed on to you.
A cheeseburger costs ¥130 ($1.17) in Japan. An average combo meal will cost roughly ¥700 ($6.30) and comes with a main meal, side, and a drink. You can generally expect to spend less than ¥1000 ($9) for fast food in Japan. Plus, they have seasonal menu items, like pickled plum fries!
Other fast-food chains to check out include MOS Burger, Freshness Burger, Yoshinoya, and Ichiran Ramen.
Cost of coffee and cafés in Japan
Nothing like a burst of caffeine in the morning! Coffee is the drink of choice in most modern cities and it’s just as popular in Japan. Most major cities in Japan offer a wide variety of both chain coffee shops and independent cafés.
You can expect to spend about ¥450 ($4.05) for a coffee at any of the major shops. Japan is all about seasonal offerings, so expect to see some really interesting menu items! Seasonal drinks also tend to be more popular and are often closer to ¥550 ($4.95) for a medium.
Cafés in Japan usually serve food as well. Sandwiches will usually cost at least ¥450 to ¥500 ($4.05 to $4.50), but don’t expect the portions to be very big. If you’re looking for both a meal and a drink, I’d expect the total to be at least ¥1000 ($9).
Major chains in Japan include Starbucks, Doutor, Tully’s Coffee, Beck’s Coffee Shop, and Excelsior Café. Doutor has especially nice sandwich options!
Cost of food in Japanese convenience stores
If there’s one thing you must try in Japan, it’s their convenience stores! The idea of eating food from Seven-Eleven might not seem appealing to you, but Japan does premade right.
The selection and exact prices do vary around the country, but I’ve found they’re still within a consistent range. You can expect a bento box (a premade meal) to cost you around ¥400 ($3.60). Onigiri (riceballs) tend to be closer to ¥150 ($1.35) or so. The clerks will also heat your meal free of charge!
Canned coffee will set you back ¥150 to ¥200 ($1.35 to $1.80), whereas the convenience store’s own brand of coffee will usually be cheaper at around ¥100 to ¥150 ($0.90 to $1.35) a cup for both hot and cold brew.
The top three convenience stores in Japan are Seven Eleven, Family Mart, and Lawson.
Cost of beer and alcohol in Japan
Something a lot of folks find surprising is how cheap alcohol is in Japan. Even with the price hike that went into effect in 2017, it’s significantly lower than one would find in most Western countries because Japan doesn’t charge a sin tax.
You can find plenty of alcohol stores that are geared toward both individual and business customers, which means discounts! A bottle of decent wine will cost about ¥2000 ($18) and a 750ml bottle of Kahlua will be priced around ¥1300 ($11.70). An individually purchased 500ml domestic beer will cost about ¥275 ($2.47).
Cost of dining in an Izakaya
Izakaya, or Japanese pubs, aren’t known for being cheap, but they’re great social experiences. Japan has a vibrant drinking culture and many people have a pub they visit often. Some izakaya owners will even have a special menu for their regulars!
Food menus are often designed around what pairs well with alcohol and buying lots of small dishes is typical. Alcohol menu items include beer, wine, sake, umeshu, and common cocktails. Most menu items will be around ¥500 ($4.50) or so, but some cocktails or luxury food items will cost more.
Some izakaya offer all-you-can-eat and all-you-can-drink plans. You can expect such plans to cost between ¥2000 and ¥5000 ($18 to $45) a person, depending on the food and alcohol offered. These come with a time limit, usually between 90 and 120 minutes.
Tokyo food prices
Just about every aspect of life is more expensive in Tokyo, making it Japan’s most expensive city to live in. That said though, Tokyo doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive if you don’t want it to be.
Many shops focus on providing goods at reasonable prices. Produce shops, butchers, and fishmongers can all provide things a bit cheaper than you might get at a typical grocery store. For a real bargain, look for Acolle stores. Visiting grocery stores after 5pm will also give you markdowns.
Some average grocery prices from Expatistan include ¥540 ($4.86) for 500 grams of boneless chicken breast, ¥507 ($4.56) for 1 kilogram of potatoes, ¥291 ($2.62) for a dozen eggs, and ¥629 ($5.66) for 1 kilogram of apples.
Tokyo is not only the capital of Japan; it’s also the world capital for Michelin stars. This means you can expect most dining experiences in Japan to be at least decent, if not great. Mid-range restaurants generally cost about ¥2500 ($22.50) a person. High-end restaurants have no real upper limit, but you should expect to pay at least ¥8000 ($72) per person.
Kyoto and Osaka food prices
The Osaka area is the second most populated metropolitan area in Japan, so food prices won’t be that different from Tokyo. However, the proximity to Kyoto and other major historical areas means that Osaka has better artisanal markets.
Much of Japan was devastated during World War II, but Kyoto was largely spared. As such, many businesses in Kyoto have been operating for centuries and they have a reputation for service.
If you’re looking for luxurious food, Kyoto Kaiseki is an experience you won’t forget! You can expect a minimum of ¥10,000 ($90) a person, but the prices will often be much higher than that.
Was food in Japan cheaper than you expected? Or is it much more expensive than you’re used to at home? Let us know in the comments below!